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Saturday, June 21, 2014

Medical Care in the Victorian Era

by Lana Williams

The Victorian Era brought about many changes in medicine. In researching my latest release, Unraveling Secrets, I became quite interested in healthcare during this period, including apothecaries and the role they played. As amazing as it might seem, even by the end of the Victorian period, a person could see patients and prescribe treatments without formal qualifications. Yikes!

An ‘apothecary’ was the lowest ranking medical practioner. They served not only as a pharmacist, but could actually prescribe medicines as well as prepare and sell them. Apothecaries often served a 5 year apprenticeship which included a minimum of 6 months of hospital work before plying their trade. Next was a ‘surgeon’ who set broken bones, pulled teeth, treated wounds and skin diseases.

Apothecaries often served as both surgeon and apothecary, kind of a one-stop shop! Surgeons were considered skilled craftsmen as they needed to use physical strength to manipulate the body. Becoming a surgeon was easier and less expensive than becoming a physician. Surgeons served an apprenticeship (for 5 years), just like other craftsman. Many surgeons found that in order to earn enough money to make a living, they needed to dispense drugs as well.

The highest ranking medical practioner was the ‘physician’ who acquired a medical degree from a university. Their focus was on diagnosis of an ailment.. Their education required reading Greek and Latin theory, but no clinical experience. Physicians were ‘gentlemen’ and therefore their wives could be presented at court, but not so for apothecaries or surgeons as they performed manual labor. The best clinical training was at Edinburgh University in Scotland. Not until 1878 were women allowed to pursue medical degrees or other degrees at the University of London.


Young doctors were often advised that 90% of practicing medicine involved keeping patients comfortable while nature took its course. Medicinal practices intended to cure (by purging, bloodletting and prescribing dangerous drugs) often did more harm than good. Simple remedies, including cleanliness, proper nutrition and rest were often quite effective. Drugs used during this period did little to cure diseases. Even today, many drugs are prescribed to control symptoms rather than provide a cure, such as cough syrup or pain
pills. In the 1800’s, medical practioners used wine, opium narcotics and traditional herbal remedies to ease symptoms such as coughs, muscle cramps, nausea or to promote sleep. Laudanum, a liquid solution of opium in alcohol, was commonly used for everything from sleeping aids to painkillers to cough suppressants. Some found it even helped prevent loose bowels.

Doctors were normally only seen for serious problems. Most people used self-diagnosis or followed the advice of older women with experience, found information in almanacs, medical books or even magazine advice columns. Supposed cures ranged from electric shock to potions and pills with an ingredient list that would frighten you!

Until 1868, the sale of drugs was completely unrestricted. Despite the start of registration for those prescribing medicine, those who dispensed them had few controls. Many proprietary or “patent” medicines were heavily advertised and contained high amounts of alcohol. ‘J. Collis Browne’s Chlorodyne’ claimed to cure coughs, colds, colic, spasms, bowel pains, stomach aches, and sleeplessness. The ingredients included morphine, chloral hydrate and cannabis. LOL!

A change of air was often prescribed and probably was a helpful tip for lung problems caused by urban air. A few weeks by the sea, at a spa, or in the mountains also helped stress related problems. That sounds pretty familiar, don’t you think?

Here’s more about Unraveling Secrets, set in Victorian London, 1882:

When her father's murderer returns from the dead to threaten her family, Abigail Bradford attempts to warn him off, but soon learns chasing a ghost is no easy task.Stephen Nolton, Viscount Ashbury, stumbles upon Abigail in the dirty streets of London's East End. Able to read auras of good and evil after an electromagnetic experiment went terribly wrong, Stephen hovers on society's edge, keeping secret his unique skill and personal mission. Despite his fascination with the lady and her unique golden aura, he intends to keep his distance.

Desperate to protect her family, Abigail turns to the one man she believes can aid her. In Stephen's arms, she finds so much more than she hoped. Stephen tries to resist his desire for the independent beauty, afraid she'll unravel his secrets. But when he discovers the murderer is linked to his own past, he must decide how much he's willing to risk for love.

The next book in this series, Passionate Secrets, will be out soon!

Lana Williams writes historical romance filled with mystery, adventure, and a pinch of paranormal to stir things up. Her medieval romances begin with A Vow To Keep, the first in The Vengeance Trilogy, followed by Trust In Me and then Believe In Me.

Unraveling Secrets is her latest historical romance release and is set in Victorian London.

Filled with a love of books from an early age, Lana put pen to paper and decided happy endings were a must in any story she created. She writes in the Rocky Mountains with her husband, two growing sons, and two dogs.

Connect with Lana:
Website: www.lanawilliams.net
Facebook: www.facebook.com/LanaWilliamsBooks
Twitter: www.twitter.com/LanaWilliams28

Unraveling Secrets, a Victorian Romance, is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo.

Comment on Lana's post for a chance to win a copy of Unraveling Secrets!

13 comments:

Lana Williams said...

Thanks so much for having me here today!

Christy Carlyle said...

Thank you, Lana! What a great post. I learned so much, and it's particularly interesting after just researching Victorian era nursing for my latest novella.

I can't wait for your next Victorian! :)

Diana McCollum said...

Wonderful and informative blog post! Very interesting how drugs have gone from anyone can dispense, create and sell to the FDA having to approve first. And the hierarchy of physicians and doctors during the Victorian period, I had no idea!!

Thanks for an interesting post!!

MJ Bell said...

Boy, it sounds like Lana has done a lot of research and really knows her stuff--the true sign of a great author! This book sounds fascinating--can't wait to read it! Thanks Lana!

Sarah Raplee said...

Awesome post, Lana! Nothing like learning something interesting in an entertaining post.

I love the Sci-Fi element in Unraveling Secrets! The Victorians were so convinced Science would solve all the world's problems!

Thank you for Guesting at Romancing the Genres.

Judith Ashley said...

Thanks for sharing your amazing research with us at RTG! Much has changed and much hasn't. There are more laws and rules but I still see people self-diagnosing and then searching around for the "cure" or once they have a prescription playing around with the timing and dosage to see if they can tweak the affect.

What drew you away from Medieval Romance to Victorian? They seem very different to me.

Lani said...

Oh, I LOVE this post! My family was a family of doctors from the 16th century on. I remember playing with my great-grandfather's medical tools, which helped me perform surgeries on my dolls. Poor dolls. I can still smell his doctor's bag full of odd scents and dust. Anyway, great post!

I LOVE all your books and am very excited about your release!!!

Ally Broadfield said...

Very informative post, Lana. I love your medieval books, but I expect the Victorians are just as good!

Lana Williams said...

Thanks, everyone! I've always loved history, so writing historical romance has been so much fun for me! I love the medieval period and intend to continue writing in that period. The Victorian period drew me as so many things were changing during this period. My books all contain a paranormal element and this period with so many scientists making break through discoveries seemed perfect!

Linda said...

Fascinating! I always come across mention of blood letting in hist-roms. How did that practice come about? can't imagine how bleeding someone to death could be a cure!

Lana Williams said...

Blood letting is one of those treatments that you'll find in ancient Greece, Mayans, and even Egyptians. Certain spots were used to drain blood to fix a particular ailment. For example, if someone had a liver problem, they might drain blood from the right hand. There are actually a few benefits from blood letting, including thinning the blood. Obviously, it was overused and created a high risk of infection, so eventually fell out of use. I heard a rumor that it is coming into practice again! How interesting!

ellaquinnauthor said...

What an interesting post! I tweeted.

ellaquinnauthor said...

What an interesting post! I tweeted.